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No Easy Genetic Answers

In response to reports that Connecticut officials are turning to genetics to explain the behavior of Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza, experts are warning that such an investigation won't produce any definitive answers.

"It is not clear that an identifiable disease exists that could or should be associated with Lanza's extreme and rare behavior," say Sara Huston Katsanis, a genetic policy researcher at Duke University, and David Kaufman, director of research at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. "If such a disease does exist, there is almost certainly no variation in a gene or genes that medical examiners could detect that would be diagnostic for the disease."

Writing in the Huffington Post, Katsanis and Kaufman note that "while there may be a genetic component that contributed in some small way to Lanza's psychosis, the notion that genetics somehow may explain the killings is erroneous."

Genetics do not determine behavior, they add. "Genetics may predispose a person to behave in a certain way, but do not dictate how a person acts on his emotions," Katsanis and Kaufman write.

Likewise, Ellen Wright Clayton, a specialist in law and genetics at Vanderbilt University, tells NPR that genetic variants "do not explain criminal behavior."

Any definitive diagnosis of Lanza's behavior is more likely to come from teachers, friends, and relatives who knew him, says Adrian Raine, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. "That will certainly yield more information than genetic material."

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